Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce leaders announced on Thursday that they would not support the renewal of the Wild Spaces Public Places sales tax on the November ballot referendum.
The half-cent sales tax originally lasted for two years and was first introduced on Nov. 8, 2008, when Alachua County voters passed the Wild Spaces and Public Places Referendum to support parks and land conservation.
As voters approach the decision to renew the sales tax for eight more years, the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce urged the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners to focus on the issue of school infrastructure.
Vice President of Public Policy for Gainesville Chamber of Commerce Kamal I. Latham said that the current tax initiative does not reflect the need for infrastructure of the community, and affirms that revisions are needed.
“We have to go back to the drawing board,” he said.
The Alachua Conservation Trust, an organization that protects the natural resources of the county and a longtime member of the Chamber of Commerce was not consulted by the board of directors when the voting for the decision took place, said Executive Director Tom Kay.
“There are many business, community leaders and residents of Alachua County that overwhelmingly support Wild Spaces Public Places,” Kay said.
Kay argued that the several parks and land conservation in the county are of great importance for the community, as they represent an attractive form of revenue to new and current residents in the form of tourist attractions.
Kay also explained that the county uses the revenue from the sales tax as a form of leverage that allows them to apply and receive additional funding from State and Federal sources, potentially doubling the amount of money obtained.
“I think if the chamber really took an assessment of the larger community they will see that there’s a lot of benefits,” he said.
President of the Chamber of Commerce Susan Davenport said the decision to not support the tax initiative was not taken lightly, and came from a series of steps.
First, a committee of public policy examined the proposal, made recommendations to an executive board, and ultimately those recommendations reached the board of directors.
It was then determined by the board of directors that an ideal tax initiative would focus on the priority of infrastructure while managing to allocate funds for parks and land conservation, she said.
The Chamber of Commerce also mentioned that 20 percent of the Alachua County land is already placed in permanent conservation, which was part of their reasoning in the decision.
County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson commented that 20 percent of the county land in permanent conservation is a considerably low estimate in comparison with other Florida counties, as well as other university cities in the country.
In regards to the chamber’s aforementioned need of school infrastructure, Hutchinson said that it’s the responsibility of the school board to fund school infrastructure, not the county.
“The fact is, if you look around the state and around the nation, the kinds of places where the innovation economy springs up and wants to remain are those places that have done a good job in protecting their wild spaces,” he said.